n this list, we will be going over our picks for the top 10 greatest rivalries in anime. Some of the anime on this list feature more than one set of rivals, for the sake of variety we will be limiting the list to only one set of rivals per show.
We will try to keep spoilers down to a minimum, but in order to explain each entry's placement some elaboration is necessary. These explanations will likely contain light to heavy spoilers for characters and events within the show being discussed. Please keep this in mind when reading entries you haven’t seen yet. With that out of the way, let’s start the list.
#10: Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak (Pokémon)
A rivalry that crosses the borders between video games and anime alike. If you were a kid in the 90s there is a high likelihood that you played or watched Pokémon growing up. Gary Oak or Blue as many video game players will call him is the rival to both the protagonist of the anime, Ash Ketchum, and the protagonist of the video games Pokémon Red and Blue.
While not one-to-one, Gary and Blue share the same design, relationships, and attitude, though Gary is definitely presented as a much bigger jerk than his video game counterpart. He is constantly making fun of Ash and is often shown to be one or more steps ahead of Ash on his journey. Gary’s confidence and snobby personality contrast really well with Ash’s more down-to-earth and friendly personality. This makes each of their confrontations throughout the series extremely entertaining since you desperately want to see Ash mop the floor with him.
These two earn their spot because of the reach and popularity of the Pokémon anime and how many of us who played the games, alongside watching the anime, could relate to Ash’s struggles and dislike of Gary.
#9: Inuyasha and Sesshomaru (Inuyasha)
Who doesn’t love a good sibling rivalry? Well, this one often gets a little out of hand. Inuyasha and Sesshomaru hate each other, each one having their own reasons behind why they feel the way they do towards each other.
Their rivalry earns its spot at number 9 thanks to how well their rivalry is shown throughout other elements of their character. Inuyasha is a half demon while his brother is a full demon. Inuyasha’s sword was designed to be able to slay a thousand demons in one slash, while Sesshomaru’s blade is incapable of killing. Inuyasha sees the value in companions and humans at the beginning of the series, while Sesshomaru sees humans as pests and his allies as mere subordinates.
Like any good rivalry, these two characters learn and grow from their interactions with each other and it is a joy to watch, both for their fights and for their development.
#8: DIO and Jonathan (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure)
No beating around the bush with this one. DIO is an absolute scumbag who seeks all the pleasures of the world and will do anything to obtain what he desires. This includes poisoning the very man who took him in when he was orphaned just so he could steal the Jostar family fortune.
Jonathan was the first Jostar to fight back against DIO’s evil and he certainly wasn’t the last. The two are complete polar opposites if we’ve ever seen some. Jonathan is honest, likable, hardworking, and caring. DIO is cold, calculated, hateful, and manipulative.
While DIO goes on to plague the rest of the Jostar family lineage in later parts, his rivalry with Jonathan is what started it all and remains the most well-developed and narratively engaging.
#7: Rock Lee and Neji (Naruto)
The Naruto series has some of the best rivals in all of anime and no doubt half of this list could have been filled with picks from this show alone. But only one could make the cut and in an effort to subvert expectations, we decided to go with the rivalry that is just as symbolically impactful as Naruto and Sasuke’s but sadly not as narratively impactful.
Rock Lee and Neji’s rivalry is one that can be found all throughout shonen anime and is relatable to real life as well. Their rivalry is that of hard work vs. natural talent. Rock Lee embodies the efforts of tireless hard work, and Neji embodies the luxuries of a blessed lineage and circumstance. This isn’t to say that Neji doesn’t train and work hard, but Lee’s training and efforts are on a whole other level. It’s an underdog story and who doesn’t like one of those?
#6: Lelouch and Suzaku
Let’s get a bit philosophical, shall we? Lelouch and Suzaku’s rivalry is one that isn’t limited to just their combat engagements, it also extends to their outlook on how one should go about changing the world. Lelouch believes the world's government is beyond reason and repair and must be destroyed and rebuilt by any means necessary. (In truth a lot of Lelouch’s motivation is his own personal vendetta.) Suzaku on the other hand believes that the world and its government can be changed from within by inspiring change in as peaceful and lawful ways as possible.
The two’s clash of ideas and methods lead their once strong and playful friendship into one of anger, frustration, deception, and regret. It really is a wild ride, one we absolutely recommend if any of this sounds remotely interesting.
#5: Asta and Yuno (Black Clover)
Two young orphans both swear to become the wizard king, the most powerful wizard in the Clover Kingdom. One is blessed by magic with a powerful four-leaf clover grimoire. The other is cursed by the forces of magic itself, born without a drop of magic in his body. He is given a five-leaf clover grimoire, one that holds the power of anti-magic.
Asta and Yuno compete with one another to become the next wizard king and each one’s journey couldn’t be more different. Asta is seen as an outcast and looked down upon by almost everyone except his squad, the Black Bulls. Yuno is praised by all despite his poor, orphaned heritage, and is recruited by the most popular magic knight squad in the kingdom. Asta relies heavily on his friends and is truly a people person. Yuno is a loner, often choosing to handle problems himself first before asking for help, and is much quieter and more reserved.
Unlike other rivalries on this list, both characters are genuinely pretty likable. Yuno’s kind of character is typically pretty easy to hate but the show saves him by giving him a relatable backstory and allowing him to show his more human and entertaining side to Asta whenever they are together. Their relationship is much more like two really close friends or even two brothers. Regardless of who actually becomes the wizard king between the two of them, we are going to have a blast going along for the ride.
#4: Deku and Bakugo (My Hero Academia)
Deku and Bakugo have a rivalry that I'm sure some people can really relate to or at the very least find pretty cathartic. Deku is your typical weak nerd who dreams of something bigger for himself despite his limitations, Bakugo is your typical jock who was born talented and makes sure everyone knows it.
So when Deku finally does get a chance at making his dream a reality, Bakugo can’t stand it. The two are competing for the same goal, the number one hero. But both have their own reasons behind shooting for that goal and go about pursuing it in different ways.
In an effort to keep spoilers for this one down to a minimum, we will just say that there is more to these two’s relationship and rivalry than what you might see on the surface. In any other show, Bakugo’s character would be an irredeemable jerk but here, we have a character who we not only root for but sympathize with and understand, much like Deku himself.
#3: Yugi Moto and Seto Kaiba (Yu-Gi-Oh)
And here we have the exact opposite kind of relationship to Deku and Bakugo. Seto Kaiba is the rich entitled jerk that everyone loves to hate. He has it all, money, power, brains, and charisma. He isn't head of Kaiba corp for no reason after all. Meanwhile, Yugi Moto is anything but, average grades, not exceptionally well off, short, and weak.
Luckily Yugi has something that Seto doesn’t, friends… and an ancient magical puzzle that contains the spirit of an Egyptian pharaoh that just so happened to like card games… and also a moral compass, but that's it really. One could argue that Seto’s true rival is actually the spirit of the Pharaoh and not Yugi himself but considering the impact, Seto has on Yugi’s character and the fact that Yugi and the Pharaoh share a body for about 95% of the show’s run, you can see why we chose to put the two together.
If you're wondering why this rivalry made the number three spot we just have this to say. Seto built a machine that allows him to travel to the afterlife just so that he could have one last duel with the Pharaoh and settle their score. A rival with that level of dedication is truly something else and we needed to give this rivalry the respect it deserves just for that.
#2: Goku and Vegeta (Dragon Ball)
Likely the most iconic rivalry on this list we have Goku and Vegeta. These two also embody the concept of natural-born talent vs. hard work but also illustrate the difference between fighting for others and fighting for yourself. It also shows the evolution of a character that started off as an antagonist only to later become a rival to the protagonist. These two have been through more together than many of the rivalries on this list, having their rivalry span decades. The two have trained with gods together. Spent years of their lives together inside a time chamber, and even fused their bodies and minds together on multiple occasions in order to beat stronger foes. There are plenty of rivalries that take notes from this one but none ever really come close to topping it, except one.
#1: Light and L (Death Note)
What can we say, if you’ve seen Death Note you know why these two are here. If you haven’t seen Death Note, what are you doing? Go watch it, it’s amazing. Light and L are both so similar and yet so different and the show takes its time exploring that element of their characters in such interesting ways. Their rivalry is one centered around a fantastic game of cat and mouse. It’s like a game of chess with literal lives on the line. It’s really hard to explain this one without spoiling some of the best parts of the series and that would be a crime against the show itself. Just know that this rivalry contains pretty much all of the best elements from the entries before it. If that isn’t enough to get you to understand its placement at the number one spot we aren't sure what will.
There You Have It -- Our Top 10 Most Iconic Anime Rivals.
And that’s the list, do you agree or disagree with our picks? Let us know down in the comments below. Interested in more anime lists? Check out our picks for the best anime friends. Looking for some new anime to watch? Our list of the best anime on Funimation won’t disappoint.